1.1 What is a Science Shop?

Science Shops are not "shops" in the traditional sense of the word. They are small entities that carry out scientific research in a wide range of disciplines - usually free of charge and - on behalf of citizens and local civil society. The fact that Science shops respond to civil society's needs for expertise and knowledge is a key element that distinguish them from other knowledge transfer mechanisms. Science Shops are often, but not always, linked to universities, where students conduct the research as part of their curriculum.

Science Shops define themselves as 'a unit that provides independent, participatory research support in response to concerns experienced by civil society'. For the most part, these units belong to universities, though some are organised as separate NGOs or non-for-profit companies. Science Shops combine research (and teaching where applicable) with service to society. Civil society organisations can simply approach a Science Shop with a problem in which they feel some research would be helpful for them to help solve their problem. The Science Shop staff will then transfer these requests into research projects and find students and/or staff to work on these projects, in close contact with the "client". The results are handed over to the client and the Science Shop staff will support the use of these scientific results by the client and will help to formulate follow-up proposals, both those relevant to the client and those relevant to further research. This process means that new knowledge is generated, or at least existing knowledge is combined and adapted to context.

Science Shops use the term "science" in its broadest sense, incorporating social and human sciences, as well as natural, physical, engineering and technological sciences. The word "provide" in the definition means that Science Shops make their services available on an affordable basis, free of financial barriers. Furthermore, Science Shops seek to create equitable and supportive partnerships with civil society organisations, hence the word "participatory". The word "equitable" in this mission statement also means that knowledge and ideas from society are used as a cross-fertilisation to the research field; it's a two way street. "Research support" can include educational projects, but makes clear that there is a difference with regular social/welfare based support to society. The words "in response to", so it's not a science push type of operation. The word "concerns" makes clear that Science Shops are not there to answer curiosity-driven questions.

As a mission statement, Science Shops seek to:

  • provide civil society with knowledge and skills through research and education;
  • provide their services on an affordable basis;
  • promote and support public access to, and public influence on, science and technology;
  • create equitable and supportive partnerships with civil society organizations;
  • enhance understanding among policymakers and education and research institutions of the research and education needs of civil society;
  • enhance the transferable skills and knowledge of students, community representatives and researchers.

A variety of other tasks are sometimes performed by Science Shops, such as regular university teaching and research, contract research, education and trainings for civil society, et cetera.

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1.2 What about the name "Science Shop", do I need to use it?

Many countries use the literal translation of "Science Shop" (Wetenschapswinkel, Videnskabsbutikken, Wissenschaftsladen, Bazar de las Ciencias, Boutique des Sciences, etc). However, you can "be" a Science Shop without calling yourself by that name. The name "Science Shop" or its literal translation may not sound "right" in all languages/situations. It could suggest "natural sciences" only, or it could have too many associations with a "store" where one can buy things.

However, since "Science Shop" started to function as a brand name, it is now generally used to distinguish Science Shops from other knowledge transfer or science communication activities. This is why there is a definition of a science shop (see FAQ 'What is a Science Shop'). The EU now uses the phrase "Science Shop or like institute". Science Shop activities can also be just a part of your institutes work, next to e.g. funded research, commercial knowledge transfer, etc. Look at the work you do, not at the name you use!

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1.3 Where and when did Science Shops start?

The contemporary history of Science Shops in Europe was initiated by critical university staff and students in the Netherlands in the 1970s, ideologically linked to the movement of 1968; their establishment coincided with the emergence of project-based education in universities, and was fed by an emerging environmental awareness in society. The approach had wide appeal, and within 10 years science shops had been established at all Dutch universities as a bureau of the institution, serving many scientific disciplines. Although the Science Shops professionalized further in the 1980s, they managed to maintain their original mission even in the changing 1990's - albeit with some reorganisations.

More information about the history, success and failures of Science Shops initiatives can be found in Report 2
of the first EC funded project on Science Shops (SCIPAS).

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1.4 Where can I find a Science Shop now?

Science Shops exist in many countries today. You can find an overview of contact points of Science Shop or related organisations in different countries on our website. You can also get in contact with a network of experts and expertise by joining the Living Knowledge network. A report from 2001 (SCIPAS report 2) describes the success and failures of starting Science Shops in various countries.

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1.5 Are there organisations that are comparable to Science Shops?

There are analogues to Science Shops (see also FAQ 'What about the name "Science Shop?'); there are institutes that do the same work by a different name (e.g. InterMediu in Romania, or Interchange in Liverpool). Moreover, in the USA there are Community-Based Research Centres that resemble Science Shops. These have mostly more intensive contact with civil society organisations and a looser contact to universities (for more information see the USA contact point).

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1.6 What is the difference between a Science Shop and a knowledge transfer bureau?

Science Shops are demand driven and work on non-profit questions. Most knowledge transfer bureaus work for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) on a paid basis (with usually support from Ministries of Economic Affairs or European Union funds). Commercial project results usually do not become public, or in general are less open to the public, this is another difference to Science Shop work. Universities that work for industry and SMEs at least claim to produce public results as well. For many universities it is an obligation to make results public (although this might take some time).

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1.7 What is the difference between Science Shops and regular science communication or science popularisation activities (e.g. science centres)?

Science Shops are demand driven and incorporate civil society from the start of the project. They work in close cooperation with the principal (often a community organisation) throughout the whole project. This is a big difference with more regular dissemination or science communication activities, which give information to the public after the research has been done. Science Shops are an example of interactive science communication.

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1.8 In what disciplines are Science Shops active?

Science Shops can cover all scientific disciplines, ranging from natural sciences to economics, social sciences and humanities, depending on the supply of knowledge they can make available within their institute.

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